So that it remains a shelter for those who were forgotten
Mar Elias Home for the Elderly shakes off the dust of war
John, 68 years old, walks around Mar Elias Care Home for the Elderly with the help of his crutch. He is checking the place he left about ten years ago escaping the heavy shelling during war in Aleppo. He sat on a chair in the shade of a large tree in the yard of the Care Home and started recounting his memories with other old people who used to live here before leaving the place in a search for safety.
This Care Home for the Elderly is currently being rehabilitated by MECC in cooperation with “Churches Together” organization in Netherlands within the rehabilitation program that works on the restoration of social and religious establishments affected by Syrian crisis.
An increase in the number of families in need for shelter
John remembers his life in the house saying,” I was the youngest among all residents. I used to help others as much as I could. I would buy them bread in the morning and play backgammon with them and then we used to gather to watch TV. Our life was nice here. With the start of war, we moved to another Home for the Elderly in a safer city. This new place has become very crowded so I am no longer able to stay there; I need to come back here because the place here is bigger and can accommodate a good number of old people.”
John first came to Mar Elias Care Home after his work stopped. He used to work in silver jewelry production as he inherited this profession from his father. He has no children and no home to shelter him and his wife. John suffers from a chronic middle ear infection; therefore, he always holds a crutch to use in case he suddenly feels dizzy.
Aleppo witnessed a lot of violence and destruction during war. Its infrastructure was hugely affected and people had to flee to safer places inside and outside Aleppo. Many lost their homes and many lost their loved ones. Many parents were left alone after their children moved to other countries leaving behind old parents with no one to take proper care of, which increased the number of elderly in need for joining elderly care homes, especially that many of them became homeless after losing their homes in the war.
Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo Mor Dionysius Antoine Shahda discussed this issue saying,” The experience of Aleppo during war was horrific and could not be described in words. The scenes of destruction tell about that painful period. Some areas witnessed huge destruction forcing its residents to leave to other places in Aleppo and outside it. The war wronged many families. The young generation had to travel to secure a better life away from war leaving behind their old parents who need care and attention. We used to think about these people and how they ended up alone. Therefore, we are working on the rehabilitation of the Care Home for Elderly and decided to build an additional floor in order to increase the capacity of the Home to receive about 50 persons and meet all their needs and we are going to install an elevator and have a church for prayers”.
He added,” Before war, the number of families in our congregation was about 1500 families. After war, we have about 1100 families, which means that almost 400 families were displaced. 90% of the remaining families are in need for assistance. The church supports all segments of society without discrimination. The aid is provided to all families in need such as food kits, medications, fuel and medical aid in order to provide a decent life to the families remaining in Aleppo who lost all they had.”
The Archbishop stressed that St. Elias protected the Home that bears his name; the home was not fully destroyed but damaged less than other buildings in Al Serian Al Jadid neighborhood in Aleppo. Some roofs fell and the home was affected by the shelling and all the furniture was stolen.
The Archbishop concluded saying,” The restoration activities encourage people to return. If life goes back to its pre-war state and the economy is revived, all those who left will return. I want to thank our brothers in Netherlands for the assistance they are providing whether through restoration activities or relief support to poor families. I want to thank all the donors and organizations that are working with us, because their assistance have save thousands of families in Aleppo. I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to them and to all the benefactors”.
A better future built by the sons of Aleppo
Razek, the director of Mar. Elias Home for the Elderly said,” The number of elderly in need for shelter has increase after war, because they have lost their homes and are not able to pay the expensive rent. There are many people waiting for the re-opening of this establishment. It is planned to increase the capacity of the Home in addition to providing medical services to the residents. We are also going to prepare a small church in the Home. We are going to do our best so that the elderly do not feel lonely here”.
Omar Al Hariri, the engineer supervising the restoration of St. Elias Care Home for Elderly said,”We started restoration activities on March 8, 2021 after obtaining the necessary restoration licenses. The place was damaged severely because of war. We started with sorting and removing rubble in addition to removing the remnants of armed groups in the hospice. Then we started with the restoration of the facades and we are currently in the final stages”.
“We also restored the internal walls that were cracked. In addition, we removed the old cladding to show the beauty of the stones and their historical form. First of all, we washed the stones with high pressure water to remove the dirt without causing any damage, then we corrected their color and we are going to cover them with insulating materials to protect rocks from dirt”.
“We are very optimistic about the future of Aleppo and Syria. After long years of war, starting restoration is making us optimistic. The war was very harsh and the damages are huge, but we are counting on the sons of Aleppo and Syria here or abroad to return and help in the reconstruction process”.
Report by Lama Halawi
Photographer Ibrahim Ibrahim Melhem